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Picton Marina in Winter

About Waitohi / Picton

Nestled in the heart of the Marlborough Sounds, Waitohi / Picton is the base for exploring, with Queen Charlotte Sound being one of New Zealand’s most beautiful water landscapes. The Marlborough Sounds make up one fifth of New Zealand’s entire coastline (almost 4,000km²) and they are without doubt New Zealand’s most popular and sheltered waterways for boating and kayaking.

Sounds Air plane over Marlborough Sounds

Waitohi / Picton is Marlborough’s second-largest town, with a population of 4,790 (as at June 2021).


Impressively set in upper Queen Charlotte Sound, in the inlet known as Picton Harbour. The harbour is flanked by two headlands, Wedge Point and the Snout, and comprises two inlets, Picton Harbour proper and Shakespeare Bay.

Whilst traveling around New Zealand you will often be amazed by the beauty of our country. Waitohi / Picton and Queen Charlotte Sound will be one of the places you take home with you and talk about for years, because the landscape is so pristine, so fresh to the eye and so demanding on the heart. Crystal clear turquoise water, lush tree fern forests, secret and secluded beaches and coves never end in this incredible environment. An abundance of fish, dolphins, orca, songbirds and beautiful weather, just add to what can only be described as paradise.

Picton Shelly Beach families enjoying the water
Picton Marina

Waitohi / Picton has grown into a beautiful waterside holiday town with some of New Zealand’s highest quality marina facilities, boutique shops and accommodation options.


It offers the visitor a fantastic base for exploring the Marlborough Sounds and Marlborough’s inland attractions and landscapes. 

In a world full of stress and noise, the Sounds offer tranquillity, peace and a landscape that has hardly changed since the arrival of Maori in the 1500’s and Captain Cook in the 1770’s.

Waitohi / Picton's History

Waitohi Harbour 1800s.jpg

The site of modern day Waitohi / Picton was originally a Maori Pa (fortified village). It is believed that the land was settled as early as the first part of the 1500’s. Te Atiawa Maori arrived in Totaranui / Queen Charlotte Sound in 1828 from the North Island, the beginning of their conquest of parts of the South Island including parts of Nelson. The name Waitohi comes from the sacred waters of Te Atiawa Te Maunga Piripiri and references wai (water), and tohi - the tohi ritual, in which the tohunga dipped karamu branches in the sacred stream and brushed the right shoulder of warriors before battle.


Before Europeans arrived in the early to mid-1800’s much of what is now Waitohi / Picton was planted with kumara (sweet potatoes) with the Pa being located close to the water’s edge.

Europeans Francis Dillon Bell and Sir George Grey (the then governor of New Zealand) purchased the land in 1850 and assisted the local Māori in relocating their pa to neighbouring Waikawa Bay, where Waikawa Marae is still based today.

Francis Dillon Bell

Francis Dillon Bell

Sir George Grey

Sir George Grey

In 1849 the site of Picton was first surveyed and the new town was called Newton. However, over the next ten years the town was known by many names, until finally in 1859 Governor Thomas Gore Browne gave Picton its European name and the town, with its single jetty and largely uninhabited valley, was named in memory of Sir Thomas Picton, who fell at the Battle of Waterloo fighting Napoleon.

Thomas Gore Brown

Thomas Gore Brown

Sir Thomas Picton

Sir Thomas Picton

Following its founding, the Marlborough Province was created and Picton was the provincial capital. Picton quickly became a vital link between the South and North Islands, with wool, grain, fruits and meat being shipped to the North Island, Australia and to as far afield as London.

Many of Waitohi / Picton’s first streets were named after New Zealand provinces – as well as, more characteristically, after English counties. The town centre has Taranaki, Auckland, Wellington and Otago streets and a Nelson Square alongside Devon, Oxford, York, Kent and Durham streets.

In the 19th century, Waitohi / Picton was a bustling port and gold mining base for European pioneers and early domestic settlers. In the 21st century Waitohi / Picton is a vibrant tourist destination with world class marina facilities, a lovely shopping centre, quality eateries and a waterfront second to none in New Zealand.

Captain Cook's Ship Cove

Ship Cove is a New Zealand Icon Heritage site. The site was used by Captain James Cook in the 1770’s to anchor his ship the Endeavour for provisioning and repair. Cook spent more time at Ship Cove, than anywhere else on earth, other than his home town of Whitby in England. The cove is much the same today as it was in Cook’s time. For more historic information go to

Captain Cook
Watercolour depiction of Captain James Cook and crew landing on shores of Marlborough Sounds
Ship Cove Historic Image

Queen Charlotte Sound

Queen Charlotte Sound was named by Captain Cook in the 1770’s after King George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte (of Mecklenburg-Strelitz). Prior to this, the Sound was known as Totaranui.

Queen Charlotte Sound is truly a majestic place to visit. Laced with beautiful sandy bays, secluded beaches, coves and ancient tree fern forests, the Sound is also home to one of New Zealand most famous walks, the Queen Charlotte Track.

The Queen Charlotte Track is 71kms of amazing coastal scenery and native bush. Combining the best of New Zealand walking and biking with a seamless network of cruise and pack transfers, resorts and lodges and great food and wine. Whether you’re here for one day or five, the Queen Charlotte Track is brilliant every day.

Learn more here

Two women walking Queen Charlotte Track
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